By: Esther Rubio-Sheffrey
SAN DIEGO â€“ After listening to almost two hours of public commentary, both in favor and against repealing the ordinances that attempted to regulate medicinal marijuana co-ops, the city council reluctantly voted 6 to 2 in favor of repeal.
The two repealed ordinances would have prohibited medicinal marijuana co-ops from operating in commercial zones, and within 600 ft of schools, parks, churches, day cares, and each other. Forcing San Diego County medicinal marijuana patients to travel to a few industrial zones in the cityâ€™s out skirts to obtain their medication.
Dozens of patients and co-op managers immediately mobilized when the council voted in favor of these ordinances in April. They successfully gathered more than 46,000 valid signatures to qualify a referendum that asked the council to repeal and return to the negotiating table, or let the voters decide whether to implement the ordinances.
While this may seem like a victory for marijuana advocates, the future of medicinal marijuana co-ops remains uncertain. With the exception of Councilman David Alvarez, all of the council members who voted in favor of repealing the ordinances, cautioned marijuana supporters that their referendum would have unintended consequences, and even alluded to supporting an outright ban in the near future.
â€œWe worked hard on this issue, and the ordinances were the best solution available,â€ Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said. â€œI worry that this is less about safe access and more about a growing business that wants to operate unregulated. The only option I see moving forward is a ban.â€
Lightner also stated that letting San Diegans vote on whether or not the ordinances should be implemented would not be helpful because people would vote against it if they felt it was too strict, and some would vote against the measure because it is not strict enough. Councilmembers Carl DeMaio, Lorrie Zapf, Kevin Faulconer, and Todd Gloria, all voiced similar concerns about a vote.
The entire council agreed that the cost of putting the measure on the ballot, estimated by the city clerk at $745,000 to $841,000, was too much to spend given the cityâ€™s dire finances. Despite the projected expense, Councilmembers Tony Young and Marti Emerald both felt that the issue was important enough to let voters decide, and that repeal would only put the council back at square one, which would further harm patients.
While many in the medicinal marijuana community who supported the referendum were hopeful that a repeal would lead to more favorable regulations, the council, again with the exception of Alvarez who called the referendum a shining example of democracy at work, expressed concerns about reaching an agreement in the future that would appease the medicinal marijuana community.
â€œIt is discouraging to find ourselves in this position after working to craft a compromise for over two years,â€ Gloria said. â€œI have severe doubts that this council will be able to reach a compromise on the issue, and there will be unintended consequences to this referendum. I hope for a better result, but I am not optimistic that there will be one.â€
For now, medicinal marijuana co-ops will remain unregulated, but open. For how long is anybodyâ€™s guess.